The owner of Bitcoin mixer Helix and resident of Ohio, Larry Dean Harmon, pleaded guilty to a one-count conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Previously, US prosecutors alleged that the Bitcoin mixer laundered over $300 million.
Bitcoin Mixer Operator Pleads Guilty
Harmon pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia on Wednesday (August 17th, 2021). According to a press release by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the Ohio resident operated a darknet money laundering service.
The defendant started a bitcoin mixing service back in 2014, which was in operation until 2017. A Bitcoin mixer or tumbler obscures the source cryptocurrency transactions by mixing them with other ‘coins’, thereby making it difficult to trace.
Within the period Harmon was in business, the Bitcoin mixer reportedly processed around 354,468 BTC, valued at over $300 million at the time, but worth $15.9 billion with the current bitcoin price. However, US authorities stated that a large percentage of the funds came from Darknet markets.
Harmon collaborated with AlphaBay, a darknet marketplace giant that operated between 2014 until its seizure in 2017. AlphaBay, along with other darknet markets, used the defendant’s bitcoin mixing services to launder funds gotten from illicit activities.
The 36-year old Ohio resident was subsequently arrested in February 2020. According to US authorities, Harmon operated the bitcoin mixer solely to conceal criminal transactions on the darknet from law enforcement.
Later in October, the United States Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) slammed Harmon with a $60 million civil penalty.
Commenting on the latest development, Steven M. D’Antuono, the FBI’s Assistant Director in Charge, said:
“Harmon admitted that he conspired with Darknet vendors to launder bitcoin generated through drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to infiltrate and shut down the cryptocurrency money-laundering networks that support cyber-criminal enterprises.”
Harmon to Face Jail Term, Fines, and Forfeitures
While the date of Harmon’s sentence is yet to be announced, the defendant could face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. Also, the bitcoin mixer operator would pay mandatory restitution, a $500,000 fine or double the value of the property involved in the transaction, and “a term of supervised release of not more than three years.”
Furthermore, part of Harmon’s plea bargain includes the forfeiture of over 4,400 BTC worth almost $200 million. The Ohio man would also surrender seized properties involved in the money laundering operation.
Meanwhile, the case is the first time the owner of a bitcoin mixer is prosecuted. According to Calvin A. Shivers, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, the law enforcement agency is dedicated to fishing out criminals who believe they can obfuscate their ill-gotten funds using services like Helix.